May 4—LYNN — A judge on Monday said he needs time to consider whether he has the legal authority to shut down a Lynn tax preparation business whose owner does not believe in wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus — and who confiscates masks from customers.
Last month, the Lynn Board of Health filed a request for a temporary order that would require Liberty Tax Services on Lewis Street to shut its doors unless it complies with emergency orders from the governor requiring the use of masks and other measures at indoor businesses or until those regulations are lifted.
The city says that not even a $136,000 penalty assessed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nor cease and desist orders from the city, have persuaded Ariana Murrell-Rosario to comply with the mask requirement.
But in court on Monday, her attorneys argued that Lawrence Superior Court Judge Salim Tabit has no authority to order the business to close, saying that once the city alerted OSHA to the situation at Liberty, it put the issue squarely in the hands of the federal government — which, it argued, has not implemented any regulations specific to masks.
Joseph Sano, who represents the business owner, said OSHA has only advisories — and that they are appealing the fine.
But James Wellock, the city's attorney, said the Lynn Board of Health does have the authority to deal with a hazardous situation, noting there have been 134 new cases of COVID-19 in Lynn in the past week.
"It's not as simple as made out in the complaint," Tabit told the city's attorney.
But that's not the only basis for the request, Wellock argued. It's not simply a matter of workplace safety but of public safety, as outlined in another section of Gov. Charlie Baker's order spelling out requirements for customers to wear masks inside businesses — something Murrell-Rosario prohibits by taking customers' masks.
Sano said customers have a choice not to enter the business if they insist on wearing a mask.
Sano also suggested that his client simply believes that the regulations are wrong.
Tabit told the lawyer that her beliefs do not matter, saying, "she's not an epidemiologist, she's not a physician, she's not an expert on infectious diseases."
At the end of the hearing, an attorney representing the parent company of Liberty Tax Services asked to address the court, telling the judge that as a franchisee, Murell-Rosario is required to follow all laws and regulations of the state where the franchise is located. That attorney said that if the judge intends to shut down the business, he would ask for an opportunity to bring in another franchise owner to run it at least through the conclusion of tax season.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.